How Leicester & Ranieri “Outfoxed” The World and Became Legends!
This time last year, Leicester fans were biting their fingernails in fear of relegation from the lucrative English Premier League, seemingly begging opponents to go easy on them and let them stay up.
Fast forward to today and they are writing the most spectacular modern-day Cinderella story, as they have won the most lucrative league title in the world of football, the English Premier League.
The chances of Leicester winning the league at the beginning of the season were 5 000 to 1. For those of us who can’t visualise the magnitude of that, it is the same odds as Kim Kardashian becoming the next president of the United states of America.
In Leicester’s 132 years as a football club, they have never won a major trophy. Their manager, though 64 years old and with 30 years in the coaching trade, had never won a major league title. Though he has had some success in his home country Italy, winning the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana in 1996 and 1997.
He has managed Chelsea, Juventus, Valencia, Monaco and the Greek national team with no league title. What has changed?
Leicester showed us a masterpiece of “deception football” to crush all opponents to victory.
When Ranieri took over this team, which had just escaped relegation off a racism scandal involving the former manager, Nigel Pearson’s son and some Leicester players, few gave the team a chance of survival.
The world was oblivious as Ranieri started his recruitment policy of relative unknowns, moulded around the combination of experience, youth, continuity and hunger.
All who seemed to function the previous season were conserved, like assistant coach Craig Shakespeare, and out the window went the rest.
The acquisition of Frenchman N’Golo Kanté from SM Caen in France, Austrian Christian Fuchs from Schalke 04 in Germany and Japanese Shinji Okazaki from 1. FSV Mainz 05 did not raise any eyebrows as they seemed like players that were being offloaded from their parent clubs.
The upgrading in status of 25-year-old Riyad Mahrez (now also known as the Algerian Lionel Messi) to a more central figure in team tactics seemed like a gamble as he looked relatively fragile in a championship reputed for its extreme physical play.
The conservation of its central defence line of Danny Drinkwater, Robert Huth, Captain Wes Morgan and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel should have warned us of upcoming solidity, continuity, physique and understanding, but it went overlooked.
Then we have the phenomenon called Jamie Vardy, who prior to now was a non-pro league player, not a star at that, but this season he has set goal-scoring records and cost the club next to nothing to acquire.
Tactically, Leicester plays a 1-4-4-2 formation that is deceptively, to the naked eye, set out in a counter-attack defensive style – a formation that guarantees, to a large extent, defensive compactness, which they needed initially to try to win points to fight off relegation.
But that is how far the formation goes, as a formation doesn’t automatically state how the team will play, defensive or offensive, but rather that is dependent on the quality of the players who constitute that formation, and above all the animation of it by the manager.
This is where Leicester “fooled” the entire English league. In fact, as the season comes to an end it is safe to say that Leicester showed us two facets this season: pre and post-Christmas period.
The above-stated constitution of the team has proven to be one that has youthful exuberance to guarantee endurance and creativity, experience to stand difficult times when things are tough and a team, injected with new blood, but still rich in players who have been together for a while to guarantee continuity and comradeship.
The “false” sit-back look of the block of the Leicester team has made it always possible for Jamie vardy to have enormous space to excel in the opponent’s half, with coupled unbelievable support and precise passing skills from Mahrez, Fuchs, Kanté, Drinkwater, and, of course, Shinji Okazaki, to make him one of the best goal scorers in English football history, and earn him six national call-ups since 2015 with two goals.
Leicester have proven to be capable of counter attacking while always outplaying the opponent via constructive combinations in the opponent’s half and conceding little.
As the second round kicked off, with Leicester topping the league, opposing teams tried to be more cautious and drag them out of their shell, reducing space for counter play opportunities. That turned out to be erroneous as, though they scored less (often reduced to 1-0 victories), it revealed the enormous ability of Leicester players to play out in tight areas. It helped propel three of the team’s players to the top six player’s award contenders of the Premier League, an honour eventually won by Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez.
Ranieri, off an unpleasant experience with the Greek national team, carved out all the above in masterful fashion. Though he knew his players had so much potential, he masked it as much as possible to allow the opponents to see Leicester as underdogs and open up when they played against his team, only to counter and beat them.
Eventually, when the opponents thought they got a grip of his game plan, he was modest enough to continue to “fool” them further by his interviews, that they had no chance of becoming champions as they were outsiders. As if they were temporarily caretaking the leadership for its rightful owners like Manchester City, Arsenal or Man United.
Ranieri’s Leicester just kept on winning and, to be crowned champions, a draw at Manchester United was all they needed at the end. Chelsea’s efforts the next day stopped rivals Tottenham from preventing the most spectacular football Cinderella story.
Leicester have brought back Romantism to football worldwide.Leicester are the most unexpected champions in the history of the English Premier League.
Join us in applauding Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester: The world’s football Cinderella team!